Sunday, October 31, 2010

Previewing Friday, November 12th

Friday, November 12th (12 days from today) will be the first full day of the regular season. To see my preview of the previous four days of the regular season, when Coaches vs Cancer games will be played, please click here. Here are some key games on November 12th to keep an eye on:

Iona vs Kent State, 5PM: If you're a Kent State fan you are going to want to watch this game just so that you can meet your team. By my count they have eight players that didn't play last season. They have three new freshmen recruits, three new Juco recruits, and two players that were at the school but didn't play last season (Justin Manns redshrited, Robert Johnson was an academic non-qualifier). All of this new blood is coming in because they lost five of the seven players that earned more than 15 minutes per game last season. So it will be a total changing of the guard for a program that was the best in the MAC last season. We'll get an early sense of how far they're falling back against an underrated Iona team. I picked Iona to win the MAAC, and it's because they return all five starters from a team that was pretty dangerous last season. They lost head coach Kevin Willard to Seton Hall, but everybody is saying that they have a great replacement in Tim Cluess (I have to take their word for it, because I don't follow D-II basketball). Neither of these times is likely to contend for an at-large bid, so this will simply be an early look at both squads.

#21 Georgetown vs Old Dominion, 7PM: A very nice match-up. Old Dominion is the favorite to win the CAA, and has a chance to be even better than last season. They will again be very strong defensively and on the boards, so the question mark will be replacing Gerald Lee, who was by far the best scorer on the team. As for Georgetown, they begin life without Greg Monroe, but all is not lost. For one, this team was a lot better than their record last season, and just kept finding creative ways to lose close games. Second of all, it was a trio that led Georgetown last season, and Austin Freeman and Chris Wright both return. Each night it was a different player from that trio that led. Jason Clark and Julian Vaughn are the other returning starters, and Hollis Thompson is another key returner. Nate Lubick and Markel Starks are their two strongest recruits. As good as Old Dominion is, Georgetown has a real chance to win the Big East title, and if they are going to do that then they need to take care of Old Dominion, particularly as retribution for Old Dominion's upset back in December.

Northern Iowa at #13 Syracuse, 7PM: It's a "year after" season for a Northern Iowa team that had so much Tournament success last season, but lost three starters (Jordan Egleseder, Adam Koch and Ali Farokhmanesh) to graduation and won't be nearly as good. Syracuse loses Arinze Onuaku, Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson from a team that was incredibly thin last season, but they're reloading rather than rebuilding with a recruiting class led by super-frosh Fab Melo. Shooting guard Dion Waiters and swing forward CJ Fair also are very strong recruits. And Syracuse does return four very strong players in Rick Jackson, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Also look for Mookie Jones to make a leap. A strong win here will emphasize Syracuse as a serious contender to win the Big East.

Southern Miss at South Florida, 7PM: Neither of these teams has a really good chance of making the Tournament, but both have a chance to make some noise so it will be interesting to see each of them getting started. Southern Miss is one of my sleepers. They spent most of last season inside the Sagarin and Pomeroy Top 100, and return all five players that earned at least 20 minutes per game last season. I picked them to finish fourth in Conference USA, but they are good enough to make a run at the title if the Memphis situation really falls apart. For South Florida, they need to find somebody to score with Dominique Jones gone. Look for them to move the ball inside with Jarrid Famous and Augustus Gilcrhist. The backcourt is going to be a big question mark. Anthony Crater is the best returner, and their top recruit is point guard Lavonte Dority. Both players will have to perform really well for South Florida to get back to the bubble this season.

Seton Hall at #22 Temple, 7:30PM: Our first chance to look at a Temple team picked by many to win a very strong Atlantic Ten (I picked them second, behind Xavier). They were successful last season by playing very sound basketball. They were extremely strong defensively (second in the nation in effective field goal percentage against, and seventh overall in Pomeroy defensive efficiency), and were very strong at not turning the ball (21st in offensive turnover percentage) over and defensive rebounding (17th in defensive rebounding percentage). That's the formula for winning games when you don't have overwhelming offensive scorers. But if Temple is going to go to the next level and seriously contend for Sweet 16s and more in the NCAA Tournament, they'll need to find an offensive spark. As for Seton Hall, they open the season with a wonderful chance for a resume-building win. I look for them to be on the bubble with so much talent back from a team that nearly made the NCAA Tournament last season. They return five players that earned at least 20 minutes per game last season, including star scorer Jeremy Hazell. They also have a solid recruiting class and the upgraded at coach with former Iona head man Kevin Willard replacing the volatile Bobby Gonzalez.

Wofford at Minnesota, 8PM: Minnesota will be a very talented team, but they had Top 25 talent last season and limped into one of the last spots of the NCAA Tournament. And they'll be without star playmaker Lawrence Westbrook. Look for Devoe Joseph and Al Nolen to pick up a lot of those backcourt playmaking duties. Minnesota has another strong recruiting class, but without the type of star they've had in their last couple of classes. So don't look for freshmen to make a huge impact. And they open with a very tough opponent in Wofford, a team that dominated the SoCon and nearly won an NCAA Tournament game last season. They lose two key starters, but return Noah Dahlman, their best player. If Minnesota comes out sleep walking they'll end up with a loss.

Fresno State at BYU, 9PM: The Mountain West Conference looks to be very tight at the top again, with BYU, UNLV, San Diego State and Utah again being a step ahead of everybody else. So this will be a good chance to check out one of those teams against a quality opponent. Jimmer Fredette is back, and will make some preseason All-American teams, but the loss of Michael Loyd, Jr is very underrated. His athleticism helped open up the floor for Fredette, and defenses will try to key more on him now that they won't have to worry about Loyd. Another underrated loss is Tyler Haws, a tremendous shooter (and possibly the next coming of Jimmer) who will be off on his mormon mission and will miss the season. Jackson Emery will need to play really well to make up for the lack of backcourt depth. Fresno State will have to move on without star Paul George, who left early and was picked 10th in the NBA Draft. They also will have to make do without Mychal Ladd, their top three point shooter last season, who decided to transfer to Washington State. Greg Smith will have to anchor the frontcourt now, and Steven Shepp will be a solid backcourt starter. But they will not be nearly as good as they were last season, and I would expect BYU to handle them rather easily.

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